High mountains and clear skies


Photo by Gemma Fink

This is home for those who opt into going up to the high mountains for HMI.

Bela De Jesus, Managing Editor of Global Perspectives

At 11,000 feet in altitude, Leadville, Colorado sits on the top of gorgeous mountains and forest. There sits High Mountain Institute (HMI), a semester abroad program for high school students that LFA has a close relationship with. Founded in 1995, it focuses on connecting students to the environment and achieving academic excellence. The semester abroad includes AP and Honors level academics, three wilderness expeditions backpacking in Utah and Colorado, and less than 50 students from across the world. 

HMI makes relationships with high schools across the country to recruit students. Lake Forest Academy has a long standing relationship with HMI, especially because Head of School, Jose De Jesús, is on the Board of Trustees. Having worked with HMI for three years, De Jesús has seen first hand how the program works to affect students.

De Jesús was blown away when he visited the school and attended an English class that got to write and read poetry in a birch tree field amongst the mountains. It was then when he realized the program was truly special. When asked about how the program affected his students, De Jesús stated that, “The students that came back from HMI were transformed like no other program.” He says they had a different outlook not only on life, but also on learning, and were more open to building a sense of community. 

Gemma Fink, a junior at LFA from Winnetka, has enrolled in the program and is currently attending HMI this semester. She has since gone on two expeditions, one backpacking in the mountains of Colorado and the other in the canyons of Utah. She is thoroughly enjoying her time at HMI, and says that on top of the amazing academic experience, she is connecting to her peers. When asked about the favorite part of her day, she said, “One of my favorite things to do is come in after such a long day and just talk through it with them.” 

The situation of being thrown together from all different schools and places into the isolated mountains forced them to create real connections in such a short amount of time. However, this situation was much more difficult this year, as COVID-19 was a large factor in how the school operated. Because there were students coming from so many places, there was a quarantine before the semester started and masks are required in all classrooms. 

When asked about COVID regulations, Fink said, “The cabin’s are kind of like your pod… In terms of being in classes and things, you do have to distance.” Because of their isolated circumstances, HMI is somewhat of an escape from the pandemic ridden world surrounding it. Fink states that rules are more relaxed than other places, as they are so secluded from everywhere else.

To conclude, HMI gives students a unique opportunity to separate themselves from their normal lives and connect to themselves and the environment. And as Head of School Jose De Jesús says, “if it speaks to you, you should consider it.”